You need to learn to live with uncertainty. When we imagine being a leader, it conjures up the idea of someone standing bolt upright making decisions with confidence and certainty. But more often than not, leading means making judgment calls based on limited information and a tight deadline.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Krisztina Oroosz the Chief Experience Officer (CXO) at Anyline, a rapidly-scaling tech company based in Vienna, Austria, and Boston MA. Originally from Romania, Krisz has forged a career as a leader and mentor in the European tech scene. Krisz is passionate about fostering new innovation and creating opportunities for young entrepreneurs, particularly among young women.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Sure! I’m originally from Transylvania, Romania, and grew up in a city called Cluj-Napoca. My family is part of the Hungarian minority there, so I was raised in a multilingual, multicultural environment. Being aware of different cultural perspectives from an early age definitely influenced my life and gave me a natural curiosity for exploring new ideas, considering different viewpoints, and for working and traveling abroad.
This curiosity brought me to Vienna as an exchange student during my undergraduate studies. I immediately fell in love with the city and decided to move here for my master’s degree in management and economics. I’ve stayed ever since and built my career here.
I’ve also had a ‘geeky’ side since childhood. I was the kid that friends and family came to when their computer broke down, so I have an enduring love for all things tech-related. A friend of mine at university noticed this in me and told me to join a local startup — that’s how I got my start. I worked with a number of small startups, an incubator, and then briefly in banking, but I knew it wasn’t for me. When I saw an open position for a Product Manager at Anyline in 2016, I jumped at the opportunity and luckily was a good fit. Since then, I worked up to Head of Product, and am now the CXO.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Wow, it’s difficult to name just one, in the tech sphere, the only constant is change so every day throws something new at us! But I guess the most remarkable so far has been leading my team through the huge disruption of the coronavirus.
As a tech company, it was easier for us to transition to home-working than for others, but what nobody could have anticipated was the influence it would have on non-technical matters, like working relationships, project management and team wellbeing. Once we got through the first weeks of shock, my priority was reestablishing a sense of calm, direction and strategy to deal with the new ‘normal’, and I’m very proud of how we came through the other side together.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
You know, I think that making mistakes, and being able to own them is incredibly important. This was a difficult lesson for me to learn, as I’ve always been someone that strives for perfection. But when I first joined management, I was hamstrung by the fear of getting anything wrong and would consciously ‘play it safe’ every time to avoid the chance of a mistake slipping through.
That was, until I sent out an important newsletter in my own name, with a glaring typo and a broken link. I expected the sky to fall, and for thunder to rain upon me — when in fact, what I got was an email from my boss saying “Congratulations! You’re free to be normal!” It was actually liberating to get it off my back, and I was able to relax into my position thereafter.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
There were two primary driving motivations for me. Firstly, I wanted the personal challenge, to push myself into the deep end and see if I could swim. One thing I think people don’t realize about joining management is there is no single ‘how to’ guide. Every company is different, and it takes a lot of self-trust and belief.
The second was to be in the position to champion the great work I saw happening and put my weight behind projects I believe in. In this respect, I think I’ve been able to bring a different perspective to the management team because I grew into the position, rather than joining the company at this level. There are of course advantages and disadvantages to this dynamic, but there should definitely be a balance in an executive team.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
When people think about the responsibilities of an executive team, I guess they would imagine us making sweeping decisions and having to be quite clinical about the consequences. That couldn’t be further from the truth!
There is a lot more psychology and people management than people would think, and most of the time it’s a continuous and delicate balancing act. When I’m making a significant decision for the company, I have to consider how it will affect our development strategy, our marketing, branding, sales… it’s something which requires continual work every day.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I love that I can influence and empower people to do great things. I enjoy being able to put my support behind projects, ideas, and colleagues which I think have great potential and then to see them succeed! As an executive, people put their trust in you, and with that comes an equal measure of responsibility. Earning and building this trust and responsibility is a challenge, but also very rewarding.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
Everything you do is much more visible, and every decision you make reflects more strongly back on you — that counts for both success and failure! Being in a leadership position also makes people hold you — and your capabilities in higher regard. This is certainly great for your self-esteem, but sometimes I wish I could tell people that I don’t have superpowers!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I think some people believe that when you reach a certain position, you must have nothing more to learn. The most important thing in being an executive is learning new things all the time!
As a woman, another myth that frustrates me is the accepted idea that to be in management, your job has to become your entire life. I think this image can dissuade women from aspiring to leadership roles because there is often a societal expectation on us to remain the chief caretaker of the family and therefore cannot dedicate ‘enough’ time to their company.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
One of the most challenging issues we still see today is the pressure on women to not just adapt but mold themselves into a male-defined business culture. Many women believe they have to masculinize their behavior in order to succeed, and that behavior normally considered ‘feminine’, is intrinsically bad.
Deferring to stereotypical archetypes of how people should act in management is damaging not only to the aspirations of many brilliant women and men who don’t fit this mold — it’s also bad for companies because it discourages diverse leadership and management styles which could be a better fit.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
It took me time to get used to being further away from everyday action on the ground. As Head of Product, I was still quite ‘hands-on’, and there is a more immediate satisfaction in completing a task or a project where you can clearly see your own mark. This can sometimes be lacking when you transition to a more guiding and enabling role, but it also has its own kind of accomplishment.
Still, I think it is important for people in management positions to stay directly involved in at least one project to stay sharp and feel connected. For me, this has been defining our yearly strategy.
Having a project like this allows me to keep plugged into the everyday work of the company.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
I think this can depend as much on the traits of company as the person! An excellent manager at Anyline could be entirely ineffective in another place, and vice-versa. For example, I know for a fact I would never have made it to the same level in a more traditional, hierarchical business structure — but for others, that environment would give the structure they need to thrive.
Another factor that’s increasingly talked about in terms of who should be executive material is the Peter Principle, which states that sometimes, ‘people are promoted to their level of incompetence’, rather than staying in the role they are best at. That means they get increasing responsibilities until they reach a level in which they’re no longer useful!
We thought about this at Anyline, and it’s why we have a two-track system for promotion: an ‘expert’ track, and a managerial track. This way, if someone is a high performer in their area of expertise, but do not aspire to lead a team and manage, they can still be rewarded and empowered to do what they are best at.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Firstly, it’s a cliché but asking for help is not a weakness. When you’re super ambitious, it’s tempting to try and prove yourself by trying to take on everything alone — I’ve been guilty of this myself! But in truth, the ability to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses, to work to improve what you need and to delegate what others can do better — this is a strength in itself.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to hire the best! Sometimes managers (both male and female) want to protect the position they have worked hard for, and then are reluctant to bring in team members who could outdo them.
For example, I recently hired a female colleague to work in my team, who I knew was more experienced than me and could probably do my job as well as I can. During the hiring process, I was open about how I admired her work and was almost intimidated by her experience. It led to a really refreshing and honest conversation about our goals, how we could work together with me as her manager, and made our working relationship a lot stronger when she started.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad was a huge influence on me growing up. I often joke that in post-Communist Romania, he was
an entrepreneur before the concept even existed! He taught me to go after whatever goal I had, to believe in everything I did, and I never felt sidelined for being a girl.
To be clear, he wasn’t the kind of guy that would give you a pep talk — he was very hard and demanding, but he supported every decision that I took. Growing up with someone who has a tireless work ethic and endless ambition widens your outlook on what is possible, and I might not have aimed so high without his influence.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We like to think of the tech and startup space as a ‘land of opportunity’, where success is there for the taking. I believe we need to do more to encourage young women to see this too and claim it for themselves.
Since starting at Anyline, I’ve been involved in a number of projects to play my part, such as the Women Techmakers event series which encourages women to enter the industry. I also mentor startups through a Vienna-based incubator program called The Ventury. Normally, we meet once every 2 or 3 weeks to discuss their product development and management, giving them advice.
In our office, we organize events for our female team members to foster a sense of community among us all so that we can rely on each other and also host an annual yearly Daughter’s Day, where we invite girls into the headquarters to encourage the next generation of young women to work in STEM fields.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You need to learn to live with uncertainty. When we imagine being a leader, it conjures up the idea of someone standing bolt upright making decisions with confidence and certainty. But more often than not, leading means making judgment calls based on limited information and a tight deadline.
- Soft skills and emotional intelligence are often more important than the highest business credentials this speaks for itself. Your Harvard MBA will be meaningless if no one will work on your projects!
- Learn to forgive yourself The heartbreak of a failed project can hurt for a long time, but you can’t let it filter into your other work and dent your confidence.
- We’re still a long way from a society in which women can ‘have it all’ It is possible, but it’s very hard, and unfortunately, many working environments still put unnecessary barriers up.
- Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself! I’m strongly against the attitude that workaholism, taking no holidays or sleeping only a few hours a night are signs of toughness. You need to take the time to recharge, get away from work, and have a life away from the office.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I don’t want to get on my soapbox…but I would promote ‘flexitarianism’ and encourage more people to reduce their consumption of meat. Producing meat is an incredible drain on resources compared to crops — this is undeniable. But at the same time, people hate to be harangued about becoming vegetarian.
No matter what you’re arguing for, using moralistic, normative arguments often result in an even stronger pushback against your goal and doesn’t solve the problem. But nudging society towards a model that reduces our consumption of animal products could have a significant impact in reducing our carbon footprint.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My coach Ferry Fischer told me that to be successful in the long run, you need to be authentic to yourself at work. This is one of my guiding principles.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Jane Goodall. She’s so humble, and yet has achieved so much, most of which was during an era when many wouldn’t take her seriously. She had so much hardship to overcome. She was so brave in deciding to follow her own direction doggedly over the decades.
I think many women have this same tenacity but are worn down or dissuaded from taking on life in the same way Goodall did because women are not supposed to be disagreeable. There’s so much more backlash against women who become game-changers. But Goodall has taken it in her stride over the decades and I really admire her for this.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.